Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find

Date:
April 15, 2011
Source:
University of Rochester
Summary:
A team of cognitive scientists has good news for parents who are worried that they are setting a bad example for their children when they say "um" and "uh." A new study shows that toddlers actually use their parents' stumbles and hesitations (technically referred to as disfluencies) to help them learn language more efficiently.

Jackson Coles, 2, of Webster, NY, sitting in the lap of his mother, Christy, watches objects on a special monitor designed to track eye movement during a research study at the University of Rochester's Baby Lab. The study found babies use "um's" and "uh's" to help them learn new words.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Rochester

A team of cognitive scientists has good news for parents who are worried that they are setting a bad example for their children when they say "um" and "uh." A study conducted at the University of Rochester's Baby Lab shows that toddlers actually use their parents' stumbles and hesitations (technically referred to as disfluencies) to help them learn language more efficiently.

For instance, say you're walking through the zoo with your two-year-old and you are trying to teach him animal names. You point to the rhinoceros and say, "Look at the, uh, uh, rhinoceros." It turns out that as you are fumbling for the correct word, you are also sending your child a signal that you are about to teach him something new, so he should pay attention, according to the researchers.

Young kids have a lot of information to process while they listen to an adult speak, including many words that they have never heard before. If a child's brain waits until a new word is spoken and then tries to figure out what it means after the fact, it becomes a much more difficult task and the child is apt to miss what comes next, says Richard Aslin, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester and one of the study's authors.

"The more predictions a listener can make about what is being communicated, the more efficiently the listener can understand it," Aslin said.

The study, which was conducted by Celeste Kidd, a graduate student at the University of Rochester, Katherine White, a former postdoctoral fellow at Rochester who is now at the University of Waterloo, and Aslin was published online April 14 in the journal Developmental Science.

The researchers studied three groups of children between the ages of 18 and 30 months. Each child sat on his or her parent's lap in front of a monitor with an eye-tracking device. Two images appeared on the screen: one image of a familiar item (like a ball or a book) and one made-up image with a made-up name (like a "dax" or a "gorp"). A recorded voice talked about the objects with simple sentences. When the voice stumbled and said "Look at the, uh…" the child instinctively looked at the made-up image much more often than the familiar image (almost 70 percent of the time).

"We're not advocating that parents add disfluencies to their speech, but I think it's nice for them to know that using these verbal pauses is OK -- the "uh's" and "um's" are informative," said Kidd, the study's lead author.

In the study, the effect was only significant in children older than two years. The younger children, the researchers reasoned, had not yet learned the fact that disfluencies tend to precede novel or unknown words.

When kids are between the ages of two and three, they usually are at a developmental stage where they can construct rudimentary sentences of about two to four words in length. And they typically have a vocabulary of a few hundred words.

The study builds on earlier research by Jennifer Arnold, a scientist at the University of North Carolina and a former postdoctoral fellow at Rochester, which found that adults also can use "um's" and "uh's" to their advantage in understanding language. Additionally, work by Anne Fernald at Stanford University has shown that it's not the quality but the quantity of speech that a child is exposed to that is most important for learning.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Rochester. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Celeste Kidd, Katherine S. White, Richard N. Aslin. Toddlers use speech disfluencies to predict speakers’ referential intentions. Developmental Science, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01049.x

Cite This Page:

University of Rochester. "Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414131436.htm>.
University of Rochester. (2011, April 15). Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414131436.htm
University of Rochester. "Parents' 'um's' and 'uh's' help toddlers learn new words, cognitive scientists find." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110414131436.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Dieting At A Young Age Might Lead To Harmful Health Habits

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Researchers say women who diet at a young age are at greater risk of developing harmful health habits, including eating disorders and alcohol abuse. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins